Tool #6: Body Scan

When you are feeling stressed, it is common for the body to carry this feeling in your physical form. For instance, stress can lead to tight shoulders, tension headaches, back pain, increased strain on your cardiovascular system/high blood pressure. This can be subtle and you may not even notice it, or you may notice obvious physical discomfort. Often, we don’t connect our physical discomfort with our emotions, but we know from medical research on meditation in the realm of chronic pain that the two are intimately related.

The evidence is so strong on the connection between mind and body in terms of pain, that the national guidelines for treatment of pain now recommend meditation as the first intervention for pain relief, even before medications. In a later edition of this blog, I plan to discuss with you some of the clinical trials on meditation for pain and proposed mechanisms of action.

Today, I’d like to provide you with this tool, the body scan. You can do this once per day, or several times per day. This will help you to identify where in the body you are carrying tension, and facilitate releasing the tension to reduce pain and psychological stress.

  1. Get into a comfortable position. You can do this seated or lying down. Make a true effort to get comfortable.
  2. Start by taking deep breaths, focusing on the diaphragmatic type breathing described in my previous blog. You want to feel the air being drawn in with the belly, feeling the rise and fall of the breath in the abdomen, less so in the chest and shoulders. This may feel as though a balloon is inflating and deflating in your abdomen with each breath.
  3. Begin at your head and slowly scan down through the body. Notice the forehead. Is there tension there? Are you clenching your jaw? Is the tongue relaxed within your mouth? Are you holding tension in the neck? Continue to bring your awareness to different parts of the body moving down towards your feet. Notice how each area feels. Where are you holding your stress?
  4. When you find an area that is tense, take in a deep cleansing breath, and while doing so, tense up that muscle/region. Upon exhale, release the breath and along with it, all of the tension you are holding there.
  5. Many people initially notice an increase in the intensity of tension/discomfort when they first focus on it, but stay present with it, breathing into the tension, relaxing, releasing and not resisting and the intensity will lessen.